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Author Topic: Legal Question (New to Rom Hacking)  (Read 871 times)

LatchGameDev

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Legal Question (New to Rom Hacking)
« on: August 11, 2017, 01:34:03 am »
Hello everyone! First post here actually. So on to my question which has two parts.

There was a Pokemon rom hack that was set to release. Then a few days before release Nintendo ordered a cease and desist. Couldn't they still release the patch? Since the patch is their code/changes to the original? I realize the patch is useless without the ROM but still...

The second part of this question. Assuming companies can legally stop you from releasing a patch/mod. Has Sony ever done something like this? The game that is motivating me to learn rom hacking and assembly is Digimon World 1 for the PlayStation 1. Currently i'm writing this at the end of day 5 of this journey. I plan to document my experience learning how to rom hack and hacking Digimon world 1 on YouTube. I want to basically make a re-imagined take on it. Brand new areas, story, and maybe even add a few creatures. In a way make a fan made part 2. I planned on making YouTube videos of my work on the project but of course that makes it more likely to be noticed by Sony. In the past has Sony killed hack/patches?   

KingMike

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Re: Legal Question (New to Rom Hacking)
« Reply #1 on: August 11, 2017, 12:37:53 pm »
It's still technically copyright-infringement, so legally yes they can sue.
It's just that MOST times, companies don't consider it in their best interest (going to end up just losing money on legal fees, vs. how much they could even realistically get from fans as compensation, and/or create a bad public image that could cost them money in lost sales, etc.) to pursue legal action against ROM hacks.

But with Prism, Nintendo decided it was. Do you know what a Cease & Desist is? It is a (relatively) polite warning to stop what they are doing or they will be sued. So if they officially released the patch, that would violate the warning and Nintendo would have to sue them like they said.
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Sir Howard Stringer, chief executive of Sony, on Christmas sales of the PS3:
"It's a little fortuitous that the Wii is running out of hardware."

LatchGameDev

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Re: Legal Question (New to Rom Hacking)
« Reply #2 on: August 11, 2017, 02:51:22 pm »
Thanks for the insight :) I'm going to pursue forward knowing that I could get shutdown now but at the very least I will be able to enjoy the hack even if the public can't. Guess we will have to see what happens.

maseter

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Re: Legal Question (New to Rom Hacking)
« Reply #3 on: August 11, 2017, 04:27:14 pm »
Do you know what a Cease & Desist is? It is a (relatively) polite warning to stop what they are doing or they will be sued. So if they officially released the patch, that would violate the warning and Nintendo would have to sue them like they said.

Makes you almost wish such project, or even RH itself, would move hosting to Iran or China.

The DMCA and all that doesn't apply there, which means that Nintendo can kiss your behind!

FAST6191

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Re: Legal Question (New to Rom Hacking)
« Reply #4 on: August 11, 2017, 04:38:24 pm »
I read the prism legal notice (should be available somewhere but I have to run shortly). Most of it seemed like trademark stuff (they had websites with words like official in which the notice spent some time on) and it had got mass press before release. Likewise the stop work thing probably could have been challenged at some level, however it is the nature of lawyers to shoot for the moon in their opening salvos. That said I assume the hack includes official pokemon from other games that might not have been in it and thus the included content could have troubled things.

Sony and ROM hacking... I don't recall anything (Sega (though they softened recently), Capcom, Tecmo, Square Enix and Nintendo sure. That is not to say Sony are not a bunch of a litigious types when the mood takes them (see geohot and the PS3 hacking stuff, to say nothing of them vs emulation back in the day). That said Bandai were the publishers of the game you mentioned so it would be them that should concern you, and nobody here spends any real amount of time worrying about things.

ineedahorse

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Re: Legal Question (New to Rom Hacking)
« Reply #5 on: August 12, 2017, 12:00:01 am »
In the case of Pokemon Prism, they inserted other Pokemon into the game, and they also used the official Pokemon logo and music in the promotion for the game. What they were doing clearly did violate Nintendo's IP any way you look at it. It would have been more interesting if Nintendo had went after a hack that avoided violating their IP (e.g. a level edit of a Mario game). Even then, the odds are against a court coming down in favor of us. Microstar v. FormGen set a precedent, and nothing federal courts have done recently makes me feel like they would side against large companies.

Anyway, OP, there seem to be a lot of Digimon fan games out there. I don't think whoever owns Digimon cares as much as Nintendo sometimes does.
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I plan to document my experience learning how to rom hack and hacking Digimon world 1 on YouTube.
That said, I'd be careful. Don't get too big of a following until your hack is released. That was the Prism guy's biggest mistake. ;)

Asaki

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Re: Legal Question (New to Rom Hacking)
« Reply #6 on: August 12, 2017, 08:26:12 am »
It seemed to me like Nintendo's lawyers were under the impression that Prism was a PC game (like that Metroid 2 remake), and not a ROM patch.

Squaresoft got a bit trigger-happy over some Chrono Trigger hacks a while back, but otherwise things have been fairly "safe".

LatchGameDev

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Re: Legal Question (New to Rom Hacking)
« Reply #7 on: August 13, 2017, 02:46:07 am »
Thanks so much for taking the time to reply. After reading all your posts I will still be documenting but now I'm debating releasing the videos at the same time as the hack. That way I wouldn't get a big following if it does take off. I will make sure to include something in the main menu to clearly tell that it's a unofficial Digimon game/hack made by a fan. I sure as hell won't promote it with the official logo. Didn't realize prism did that *face palm*

GuyPerfect

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Re: Legal Question (New to Rom Hacking)
« Reply #8 on: August 14, 2017, 07:48:46 pm »
This is a common question, and there's a lot of misinformation surrounding it, so hopefully I can shed some light on it... Bear in mind that I am not a legal advisor and that what experience I do have revolves around United States laws. My answers here may not apply in your jurisdiction.

First things first, Nintendo is often a subject of ridicule with regards to emulation because their official stance on it is misleading and incorrect. They explicitly state that a device that can be used to copy games is in itself illegal, which even someone with only a passing familiarity with the law can take issue with. I don't want to touch on Nintendo's claims in this post--rather, focus on what they can legally do in a court of law.

The most common claim is that fan games are violations of copyright. In order for something to be considered an infringement of copyright as defined by title 17, it must be used "for sale or trade". If there's no exchange of goods going on, then it's not a matter of copyright at all. That doesn't mean Nintendo won't go after it, it just means that copyright isn't a magical umbrella that makes or breaks every problem. Similarly, it's important to remember that even if your own project isn't technically an infringement of copyright, you're not necessarily in the clear.

Frankly, Nintendo is usually hands-off when it comes to fan projects, but have on occasion issued cease and desist orders to a select few. This article on Gaming Reinvented lists a good few cases where this happened. Take a look at that list and see if you can identify what all of those projects have in common. They're all pretty good, right? But it's not that Nintendo is gunning for the good works in some huffy retaliation for being shown up by fans...

What it boils down to is whether a fan project legitimately causes a problem for Nintendo. Remember, Nintendo is a big corporation with a lot of investors who have a keen interest in seeing those investments succeed. So when something comes around that uses Nintendo's intellectual properties or creative works in such a way that customers are distracted by it, that's when it becomes a problem and Nintendo is obligated to respond. This almost exclusively happens with good fan projects, so as far as I'm concerned, a cease and desist from Nintendo is tantamount to receiving their stamp of approval.

I guess what I want everyone to take away from this is that while there's nothing intrinsically wrong with mods or ROM hacks from a legal perspective, we still need to be mindful that even something as innocuous as a fan game can have genuine, measurable effects on the company that inspired them. If that company should deem it necessary to take legal action as a responsibility to their stakeholders, it should come as no surprise and we really ought to accept it and move on. If we think we've got something good on our hands, we could always put some effort into making a brand new intellectual property and sidestep the issue completely...

KingMike

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Re: Legal Question (New to Rom Hacking)
« Reply #9 on: August 15, 2017, 06:48:45 pm »
Nintendo states there's no reason to use an emulator except to pirate games.
I would equate that to when CD publishers said something about CD burners and digital media back when CDs were still the primary music distribution medium. :P
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Sir Howard Stringer, chief executive of Sony, on Christmas sales of the PS3:
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SunGodPortal

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Re: Legal Question (New to Rom Hacking)
« Reply #10 on: August 15, 2017, 07:20:32 pm »
Nintendo states there's no reason to use an emulator except to pirate games.
I would equate that to when CD publishers said something about CD burners and digital media back when CDs were still the primary music distribution medium. :P

Who could have imagined that CDs would have ever taken off after home taping killed music. :)
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Psyklax

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Re: Legal Question (New to Rom Hacking)
« Reply #11 on: August 16, 2017, 02:06:24 am »
I don't see why people making things like this don't just make it LIKE the real thing, with people knowing what it really should be. When I'm playing Axe Duggan in Fire Pro Wrestling, I know it's really Hulk Hogan. Obviously we don't do that with ROM hacks, but we just make patches with no copyrighted info inside them, and playing ROM hacks is still very much a niche interest, let alone making them. That Metroid 2 remake was foolish to call it that and use graphics like the original game.

Tsukiyomaru0

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Re: Legal Question (New to Rom Hacking)
« Reply #12 on: August 16, 2017, 04:54:46 am »
Nintendo is a heavy practitioner of Trademark Bullying, which means being far too strict about their own Trademark to the point of absurd. That is more of a bad thing, because if they become repeated offenders in court they risk losses.

But that out of the way: Australia does NOT allow game modification, and romhacking falls under that, which is why the head developer of Pokemon Prism got threatened. Game modification has been legally permitted by SEGA in the past (see Wonder Boy converted into a Turma da Mônica game) and even showed interest in fan creation (which led to Sonic Mania happening), Capcom and Konami have both recognized fangames officially (given their blessings, officially publishing it, etc.), id Software has some degree of recognition towards Doom I and II modification, and more.

The topic of Fan Game, Rom Hacking and even ORIGINAL game development is far too complicated for a non-specialized individual (as in: Neither a lawyer nor someone who has been studying SPECIFICALLY legal matters involving games) to discuss with many, as it is pretty much treated as "per company and per case" basis.

For the record, there were cases of Pac-man clones (Blatant ones even) that were permitted to be sold after the defendant won in court, and other clones of the same game that were sued anyways. Similarly, emulation was an "unwritten taboo" back around PS1 era, Sony tried to sue two emulators and failed. One got protected by the court as in what was described as "protecting David from the Goliath", and the other has made a deal outside the court tosell the rights to Sony (who, you guess it, discontinued the project)

FAST6191

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Re: Legal Question (New to Rom Hacking)
« Reply #13 on: August 16, 2017, 06:45:58 am »
"Nintendo is a heavy practitioner of Trademark Bullying"
I am not seeing it. Everything I have seen from them as far as ROM hacking and fan games are general day to day stuff I would have said better do that for were I Nintendo or just a legal type analysing their moves. The Nintendo vs Youtube saga bordered on distasteful on Nintendo's part and clearly shows they did not get it but that is a different matter, not to mention most let's play guidelines seem to stem from trademark law. Compare them to someone like the Superbowl people and it is not even close, or if we are looking at games then what the Tetris people have done over the years.

Game clones is a different matter entirely to ROM hacking though. Assuming you are not in a place backwards enough to have software patents then you are usually free and clear to clone away as long as you don't lift art or code.

Psyklax

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Re: Legal Question (New to Rom Hacking)
« Reply #14 on: August 16, 2017, 07:06:10 am »
Game clones is a different matter entirely to ROM hacking though. Assuming you are not in a place backwards enough to have software patents then you are usually free and clear to clone away as long as you don't lift art or code.

My point exactly concerning things like the Metroid 2 game. Just do it like FreeDoom, with completely original art. Obviously the code is new too. I can't see Nintendo sending a cease and desist on something because its level layout seems similar to one of their games.

FAST6191

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Re: Legal Question (New to Rom Hacking)
« Reply #15 on: August 16, 2017, 12:11:28 pm »
Forgot there was actually a case of clone related lawsuit in somewhat recent times
http://money.cnn.com/2012/08/03/technology/zynga-ea-lawsuit/index.htm
EA sued Zynga a while back. Alas it was resolved out of court and no terms have been released that I have seen https://techcrunch.com/2013/02/15/zynga-and-ea-settle-their-nasty-legal-battles-over-the-unmistakable-copy-of-the-sims/

KingMike

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Re: Legal Question (New to Rom Hacking)
« Reply #16 on: August 16, 2017, 03:52:27 pm »
Game modification has been legally permitted by SEGA in the past (see Wonder Boy converted into a Turma da Mônica game)
The Brazilian Monica conversions were licensed, though.
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Sir Howard Stringer, chief executive of Sony, on Christmas sales of the PS3:
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Zoinkity

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Re: Legal Question (New to Rom Hacking)
« Reply #17 on: August 17, 2017, 07:53:17 pm »
I'd think the majority of problems wouldn't be with copyright as much with the fact these are unlicensed derivative works.
No matter how you look at it though direct distribution and sale is obviously illegal.

Deathofreligion

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Re: Legal Question (New to Rom Hacking)
« Reply #18 on: August 19, 2017, 04:34:18 pm »
A drum beat is a drum beat. People do not complain about that, yet, they have heard the same thing over and over for years.